I'm happy to find this forum—I'm teaching a research writing course this spring semester and using The End of Faith as one of my source texts (thank you, Mr. Harris). The topic of the course is religion and apostasy—not an inquiry into religion, faith, and reason per se, but an exploration of individual loss of faith and its ramifications.
Of course this presupposes an existing faith that has been put in crisis or lost outright.
I'm looking for fiction, nonfiction, academic journals, movies, documentaries that deal with this theme. I already have quite a few sources but thought I'd put out a call for more from forum participants.
Academic writing on the subject is especially welcome. To reiterate, I'm not looking for discourse in the rationale of faith, but rather about how it is put into crisis, and what happens when it is lost.
I hope I'm not too far afield here, and I thank you for any and all contributions!
One of my favorite old Hollywood movies from the 1950’s “The Nun’s Story” isn’t strictly speaking about a loss of faith but it cerainly comes close. The film stars a young and beautiful Audrey Hepburn who is filled with enthusiasm as she enters a strict European convent as a novice and loses all contact with the outside world.
As the film progresses, we watch Audrey try to cope with the stifling routine, the loss of all personal freedom and the never ending demands for senseless, blind obediance. In one memorable scene Audrey, dressed in a elaborate wedding gown, walks down the aisle of the chapel, recites her vows to “marry Christ”, and then immediately leaves the room and cuts off all her beautiful hair. She is now a nun, and her life becomes even more constricted and intolerable.
Eventually Audrey decides she cannot live as a nun. In the last scene, we see her in a small darkened room saying goodbye to her fellow nuns. Then alone, she removes her severe nun’s habit for the last time and dresses herself in the simple outfit she last wore when she entered the convent as a young girl.
In the last seconds of the film, an apprehensive Audrey opens the door and sunlight floods into the room. She takes one tentative step outside and pauses for a moment. Finally she picks up her suitcase and starts to walk away from the camera and down the street with a confident stride. Audrey has reentered the world.
In a way it’s rather remarkable that this movie was made at all. The movie may have inspired a few young Catholic girls to become nuns because they were taken with the beautiful Audrey Hepburn. But I’m sure it gave many more nuns the strength and courage to leave their convents.
Amazing Conversions by Bob Altemeyer might be useful to you (not sure). Also maybe parts of Losing Faith in Faith by Dan Barker and Leaving the Fold by Ed Babinksi (more of Ed’s stuff and Dan’s stuff on the Internet Infidels site).
That’s all specifically regarding religious conversion I can think of off hand (hopefully at least the links will be fruitful).
Many thanks for the responses . . . I thought I’d share as I get my syllabus together, perhaps to generate even more contributions—here’s what I have so far:
A History of God - Karen Armstrong
The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism - Karen Armstrong
Atheism: A Very Short Introduction - Julian Baggini
Beyond Belief: Essays on Religion in a Post-Traditionalist World - Robert N. Bellah
Rocks of Ages - Stephan Jay Gould
The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason - Sam Harris
The Varieties of Religious Experience - William James
God: An Autobiography - Jack Miles
Jesus: A Crisis in the Life of God - Jack Miles
Confessions - Saint Augustine
Notes of a Native Son - James Baldwin
Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church - The Investigative Staff of the Boston Globe, et al
American Requiem - James Carroll
Shot in the Heart - Mikal Gilmore
Half the House - Richard Hoffman
Under the Banner of Heaven - Jon Krakauer
A Grief Observed - C.S. Lewis
Night - Elie Wiesel
Ulysses - James Joyce
The Song of Solomon - Toni Morrison
Frankenstein - Mary Shelly
The Chosen - Chaim Potok
White Teeth - Zadie Smith
short stories and novellas
“Godliness, Parts I–IV” - Sherwood Anderson
“The Strength of God” - Sherwood Anderson
“For the Relief of Unbearable Urges” - Nathan Englander
“Absolution” - F. Scott Fitzgerald
“The Dead” - James Joyce
Dubliners - James Joyce
“The Magic Barrel” - Bernard Malamud
The Pastures of Heaven - John Steinbeck
Angels in America - Tony Kushner
Agnes of God
The Magdalene Sisters
The Devil’s Playground
Trembling Before G-d
Amish in the City
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Six Feet Under
Granted, this list may be heavy on the pop and light on the academy (witness the inclusion of the TV show Amish in the City and the dearth of academic journals), but the students are 17, 18 . . . and it’s just a start—hope you can help to add more . . .
I do not feel faith should be looked at in the same light as black and white. Some individuals have faith, lose it, regain it, lose it. Agnosticism suggests that faith may increase and decrease like the fuel gauge and I think this is more closer to the truth.
“Silas Marner was both sane and honest, and as with many honest and fervent men, culture had not defined any channels for his sense of mystery, and so it spread itself over the proper pathway of inquiry and knowledge. He had inherited from his mother some acquaintance with medicinal herbs and their preparation, a little store of wisdom which she had imparted to him as a solemn bequest but of late years he had had doubts about the lawfulness of applying this knowledge, believing that herbs could have no efficacy without prayer, and that prayer might suffice without herbs; so that the inherited delight he had in wandering in the fields in search of foxglove and dandelion and coltsfoot, began to wear to him the character of a temptation.
Among the members of his church there was one young man, a little older than himself, with whom he had long lived in such close friendship that; it was the custom of their Lantern Yard brethren to call them David and Jonathan. The real name of the friend was William Dane, and he, too, was regarded as a shining instance of youthful piety, though somewhat given to over severity towards weaker brethren, and to be so dazzled by his own light as to hold himself wiser than his teachers. But whatever blemishes others might discern in William, to his friend’s mind he was faultless; for Marner had one of those impressible self-doubting natures which, at an inexperienced age, admire imperativeness and lean on contradiction. The expression of trusting simplicity in Marner’s face, heightened by that absence of special observation, that defenseless, deer like gaze which belongs to large prominent eyes, was strongly contrasted by the self complacent suppression of inward triumph that lurked in the narrow slanting eyes and compressed lips of William Dane.
One of the most frequent topics of conversation between the two friends was Assurance of Salvation: Silas confessed that he could never arrive at anything higher than hope mingled with fear, and listened with longing wonder when William declared that he had possessed unshaken assurance ever since, in the period of his conversion, he had dreamed that he saw the words ‘calling and election sure’ standing by themselves on a white page in the open Bible. Such colloquies have occupied many a pair of pale faced weavers, whose unnurtured souls have been like young winged things, fluttering forsaken in the twilight.
It had seemed to the unsuspecting Silas that the friendship had suffered no chill even from his formation of another attachment of a closer kind. For some months he had been engaged to a young servant woman, waiting only for a little increase to their mutual savings in order to marry; and it was a great delight to him that Sarah did not object to William’s occasional presence in their Sunday interviews.
It was at this point in their history that Silas’s cataleptic fit occurred during the prayer meeting; and amidst the various queries and expressions of interest addressed to him by his fellow members, William’s suggestion alone jarred with the general sympathy towards a brother thus singled out for special dealings. He observed that, to him, this trance looked more like a visitation of Satan than a proof of divine favor, and exhorted his friend to see that he hid no accursed thing within his soul.
Silas, feeling bound to accept rebuke and admonition as a brotherly office, felt no resentment, but only pain, at his friend’s doubts concerning him; and to this was soon added some anxiety at the perception that Sarah’s manner towards him began to exhibit a strange fluctuation between an effort at an increased manifestation of regard and involuntary signs of shrinking and dislike. He asked her if she wished to break off their engagement; but she denied this: their engagement was known to the church, and had been recognized in the prayer meetings; it could not be broken off without strict investigation, and Sarah could render no reason that would be sanctioned by the feeling of the community.
At this time the senior deacon was taken dangerously ill, and, being a childless widower, he was tended night and day by some of the younger brethren or sisters. Silas frequently took his turn in the night - watching with William, the one relieving the other at two in the morning. The old man, contrary to expectation, seemed to be on the way to recovery, when one night Silas, sitting up by his bedside, observed that his usually audible breathing had ceased. The candle was burning low, and he had to lift it to see the patient’s face distinctly. Examination convinced him that the deacon was dead - had been dead some time, for the limbs were rigid. Silas asked himself if he had been asleep, and looked at the clock: it was already four in the morning. How was it that William had not come?
In much anxiety he went to seek for help, and soon there were several friends assembled in the house, the minister among them, while Silas went away to his work, wishing he could have met William to know the reason of his non-appearance. But at six o’clock, as he was thinking of going to seek his friend, William came, and with him the minister. They came to summon him to Lantern Yard, to meet the church members there; and to his inquiry concerning the cause of the summons the only reply was, ‘You will hear.’ Nothing further was said until Silas was seated in the vestry, in front of the minister, with the eyes of those who to him represented God’s people fixed solemnly upon him.
The minister, taking out a pocket-knife, showed it to Silas, and asked him if he knew where he had left that knife? Silas said, he did not know that he had left it anywhere out of his own pocket - but he was trembling at this strange interrogation. He was then exhorted not to hide his sin, but to confess and repent. The knife had been found in the bureau by the departed deacon’s bedside - found in the place where the little bag of church money had lain, which the minister himself had seen the day before. Some hand had removed that bag; and whose hand could it be, if not that of the man to whom the knife belonged? For some time Silas was mute with astonishment: then he said, ‘God will clear me: I know nothing about the knife being there, or the money being gone. Search me and my dwelling: your will find nothing but three pound five of my own savings, which William Dane knows I have had these six months.’
At this William groaned, but the minister said, ‘The proof is heavy against you, brother Marner. The money was taken in the night last past, and no man was with our departed brother but you, for William Dane declares to us that he was hindered by sudden sickness from going to take his place as usual, and you yourself said that he had not come; and, moreover, you neglected the dead body.’
‘I must have slept,’ said Silas. Then, after a pause, he added, ‘Or I must have had another visitation like that which you have all seen me under, so that the thief must have come and gone while I was not in the body, but out of the body. But, I say again, search me and my dwelling, for I have been nowhere else’.
The search was made, and it ended - in William Dane’s finding the well known bag, empty, tucked behind the chest of drawers in Silas’s chamber! On this William exhorted his friend to confess, and not to hide his sin any longer. Silas turned a look of keen reproach on him, and said, ‘William, for nine years that we have known each other, have you ever known me tell a lie? But God will clear me.’
‘Brother,’ said William, ‘how do I know what you may have done in the secret chambers of your heart, to give Satan an advantage over you?’
Silas was still looking at his friend. Suddenly a deep flush came over his face, and he was about to speak impetuously, when he seemed checked again by some inward shock, that sent the flush back and made him tremble.
But at last he spoke feebly, looking at William. ‘I remember now - the knife wasn’t in my pocket.’
William said, ‘Iknow nothing of what you mean.’
The other persons present, however, began to inquire where Silas meant to say that the knife was, but he would give no further explanation: he only said, ‘I am sore stricken; Ican say nothing. God will clear me.’
On their return to the vestry there was further deliberation. Any resort to legal measures for ascertaining the culprit was contrary to the principles of the Church: prosecution was held by them to be forbidden to Christians, even if it had been a case in which there was no scandal to the community. But they were bound to take other measures for finding out the truth, and they resolved on praying and drawing lots. This resolution can be a ground of surprise only to those who are unacquainted with that obscure religious life which has gone on in the alleys of our towns. Silas knelt with his brethren, relying on his own innocence being certified by immediate divine intervention, but feeling that there was sorrow for him even then that his trust in man had been cruelly bruised.
The lots declared that Silas Marner was guilty. He was solemnly suspended from church membership, and called upon to render up the stolen money: only on confession, as the sign of repentance, could he be received once more within the fold of the church.
Marner listened in silence. At last, when every one rose to depart, he went towards William Dane and said, in a voice shaken by agitation - ‘The last time I remember using my knife, was when I took it out to cut a strap for you. I don’t remember putting it in my pocket again. You stole the money, and you have woven a plot to lay the sin at my door. As you may prosper, for all that: there is no just God that governs the earth righteously, but a God of lies, that bears witness against the innocent.’ There was a general shudder at this blasphemy.
William said meekly, ‘I leave our brethren to judge whether this is the voice of Satan or not. I can do nothing but pray for you, Silas.’
Poor Marner went out with that despair in his soul - that shaken trust in God and man, which is little short of madness to a loving nature.
In the bitterness of his wounded spirit, he said to himself, ‘She will cast me off too.’ And he reflected that, if she did not believe the testimony against him, her whole faith must be upset, as his was.
To people accustomed to reason about the forms in which their religious feeling has incorporated itself, it is difficult to enter into that simple, untaught state of mind in which the form and the feeling have never been severed by an act of reflection.
We are apt to think it inevitable that a man in Marner’s position should have begun to question the validity of an appeal to the divine judgment by drawing lots; but to him this would have been an effort of independent thought such as he had never known; and he must have made the effort at a moment when all his energies were turned into the anguish of disappointed faith. If there is an angel who records the sorrows of men as well as their sins, he knows how many and deep are the sorrows that spring from false ideas for which no man is culpable.
Marner went home, and for a whole day sat alone, stunned by despair, without any impulse to go to Sarah and attempt to win her belief in his innocence. The second day he took refuge from benumbing unbelief, by getting into his loom and working away as usual; and before many hours were past, the minister and one of the deacons came to him with the message from Sarah, that she held her engagement to him at an end. Silas received the message mutely, and then turned away from the messengers to work at his loom again. In little more than a month from that time, Sarah was married to William Dane; and not long afterwards it was known to the brethren in Lantern Yard that Silas Marner had departed from the town.”
“So, year after year, Silas Marner had lived in this solitude, his guineas rising in the iron pot, and his life narrowing and hardening itself more and more into a mere pulsation of desire and satisfaction that had no relation to any other being. His life had reduced itself to the mere functions of weaving and hoarding, without any contemplation of an end towards which the functions tended. The same sort of process has perhaps been under gone by wiser men, when they have been cut off from faith and love only, instead of a loom and a heap of guineas, they have had some erudite research, some ingenious project, or some well-knit theory.”
“‘Where is the money?’ now took such entire possession of Duncan as to make him quite forget that the weaver’s death was not a certainty. A dull mind, once arriving at an inference that flatters a desire, is rarely able to retain the impression that the notion from which the inference started was purely problematic. And Dunstan’s mind was as dull as the mind of a possible felon usually is. There were only three hiding places where he had ever heard of cottagers’ hoards being found: the thatch, the bed, and a hole in the floor. Marner’s cottage had no thatch; and Dunstan’s first act, after a train of thought made rapid by the stimulus of cupidity, was to go up to the bed; but while he did so, his eyes traveled eagerly over the floor, where the bricks, distinct in the fire light, were discernible under the sprinkling of sand.
But not everywhere; for there was one spot, and one only, which was quite covered with sand, and sand showing the marks of fingers which had apparently been careful to spread it over a given space. It was near the treddles of the loom. In an instant Dunstan darted to that spot, swept away the sand with his whip, and, inserting the thin end of the hook between the bricks, found that they were loose. In haste he lifted up two bricks, and saw what he had no doubt was the object of his search; for what could there be but money in those two leathern bags? And, from their weight, they must be filled with guineas. Dunstan felt round the hole, to be certain that it held no more; then hastily replaced the bricks, and spread the sand over them.”
“There was pauper’s burial that week and it was known that the dark haired woman with the fair child, who had lately come to lodge there, was gone away again. That was all the note taken that Molly had disappeared from the eyes of men. But the unwept death which, to the general lot, seemed as trivial as the summer shed leaf, was charged with the force of destiny to certain human lives that we know of, shaping their joys and sorrows even to the end.”
“Silas Marner’s determination to keep the ‘tramp’s child’ was matter of hardly less surprising and iterated talk in the village than the robbery of his money. That softening of feeling towards him which dated from his misfortune, that merging of suspicion and dislike in a rather contemptuous pity for him as lone and crazy, was now accompanied with a more active sympathy, especially among the women.”
“Notwithstanding the difficulty of carrying her and his yam or linen at the time, Silas took Eppie with him on most of his journeys to the farm houses, unwilling to leave her behind at Dolly Winthrop’s, who was always ready to take care of her; and little curly headed Eppie, the weaver’s child, became an object of interest at several out lying homesteads, as well as in the village. “
“Hitherto he had been treated very much as if he had been a useful gnome or brownie - a queer and unaccountable creature, who must necessarily be looked at with wondering curiosity and repulsion, and with whom one would be glad to make all greetings and bargains as brief as possible, but who must be dealt with in a propitiatory way, and occasionally have a present of pork or garden stuff to carry home with him, seeing that without him there was no getting the yarn woven.
Now Silas met with open smiling faces and cheerful questioning, as a person whose satisfactions and difficulties could be understood. Even here he must sit a little and talk about the child, and words of interest were always ready for him: ‘Ah, Master Marner, you’ll be lucky if she takes the measles soon and easy!’ - or, ‘Why, there isn’t many lone men ‘ud ha’ been wishing to take up with a little un like that: but I reckon the weaving makes you handier than men as do out door work - you’re partly as handy as a woman, for weaving comes next to spinning.’ “
“Elderly masters and mistresses, seated observantly in large kitchen armchairs, shook their heads over the difficulties attendant on rearing children, felt Eppie’s round arms and legs, and pronounced them remarkably firm, and told Silas that, if she turned out well (which, however, there was no telling), it would be a fine thing for him to have a steady lass to do for him when he got helpless.
Servant maidens were fond of carrying her out to look at the hens and chickens, or to see if any cherries could be shaken down in the orchard; and the small boys and girls approached her slowly, with cautious movement and steady gaze, like little dogs face to face with one of their own kind, till attraction had reached the point at which the soft lips were put out for a kiss.
No child was afraid of approaching Silas when Eppie was near him: there was no repulsion around him now, either for young or old; for the little child had come to link him once more with the whole earth. There was love between him and the child that blent them into one, and there was love between the child and the Earth - from men and women with parental looks and tones, to the red lady-birds and the round pebbles.”
“Silas began now to think of life entirely in relation to Eppie: she must have everything that was good; and he listened docilely, that he might come to understand better what this life was, from which, for fifteen years, he had stood aloof as from a strange thing, with which he could have no communion: as some man who has a precious plant to which he would give a nurturing home in a new soil, thinks of the rain and sunshine, and all influences, in relation to his nursling, and asks industriously for all knowledge that will help him to satisfy the wants of the searching roots, or to guard leaf and bud from invading harm. “
“The disposition to hoard had been utterly crushed at the very first by the loss of his long stored gold: the coins he earned afterwards seemed as irrelevant as stones brought to complete a house suddenly buried by an earthquake; the sense of bereavement was too heavy upon him for the old thrill of satisfaction to arise again at the touch of the newly earned coin.
And now something had come to replace his hoard which gave a growing purpose to the earnings, drawing his hope and joy continually onward beyond the money. In old days there were angels who came and took men by the hand and led them away from the city of destruction. We see no white winged angels now. But yet men are led away from threatening destruction: a hand is put into theirs, which leads them forth gently towards a calm and bright earth, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a little child’s.”
“It is impossible to mistake Silas Marner. His large brown eyes seem to have gathered a longer vision, as is the way with eyes that have been short-sighted in early life, and they have a less vague, a more answering look; but in everything else one sees signs of a frame much enfeebled by the lapse of the sixteen years. The weaver’s bent shoulders and white hair give him almost the look of advanced age, though he is not more than five-and-fifty; but there is the freshest blossom of youth close by his side.
A blonde dimpled girl of eighteen, who has vainly tried to chastise her curly auburn hair into smoothness under her brown bonnet: the hair ripples as obstinately as a brooklet under the March breeze, and the little ringlets burst away from the restraining comb behind and show themselves below the bonnet-crown.”
“Since the time the child was sent to me and I have come to love her as myself, I have had light enough to trust in God; and, now she says she’ll never leave me, I think I shall trust in God until I die.’ said Silas.”
-From Silas Marner - George Eliot or Mary Ann Evans, English author and philospher
A very good American novel dealing about faith was written by Sinclair Lewis, Elmer Gantry.
The Body is a fantastic film about losing faith!
Here’s the Amazon.com listing for it.
I’m finding the reviews pretty interesting. A lot of them clearly say much about the reviewers, little about the movie (maybe I’ll add one of my own). Still, I think you can glean a lot from them.
jesus fucking christ lawrence stop writing 600000 word essays
Lawrence didn’t write anything - he cut and pasted from George Eliot. What’ the point of that - nobody is going to read it.
Anyway, back to the question. What about some more philosophy - not necessarily the turgit stuff of the 19th century, but contempory writers such as Anthony Grayling, who writes with such clarity about topical events, bringing a philospoher’s discipline to the issues at hand. I’d recommend his book ‘The Reason of Things’ - a collection of short essays addressing headline news stories and exploring their philosophical angles. Many of these essays touch on the stifling impact of religious and societal dogma and the benefits of looking at the issues from a secular perspective.
Hello, this is my first post on this forum. I was just browsing through the topics and this one caught my eye. I have a book that was of great help to me when I walked away from Evangelical Christianity. Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion By Marlene Winell, Ph.D. Winell was born the daughter of missionaries and spent much of her early years in Asia. While studying psychology and counseling, she at first tried to retain her faith and connection to Christianity as she attempted to establish a career in counseling. But she eventually saw the folly in this, and came to understand the limitations and potential unhealthiness of her faith. Her personal story is included in the book. (From the back cover). “Winell has worked in the human sevices field for twenty years. She holds a doctorate in Human Development and Family Studies from Penn State University and is a licensed psychologist. Her work on religious recovery is based on both her personal experience and clinical practice.” The book is divided into three parts: I. Sorting It Out. A look at the recovery process, understanding your involvement, recognizing manipulations, breaking away, the family’s influence. II. Healing. The damaged self, inner healing, fighting old religious ideas, reclaiming your feelings, emotional recovery. III. Growth. Claiming you identity, worth and ability, living life now, thinking for yourself, discovering choice. From the introduction: “This book is written for those who want to understand and recover from harmful religious indoctrination. It is also intended as useful information for therapists and others seeking understanding of these issues, particularly in relation to fundamentalism”. www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1879237512/qid=1109770726/sr=2-1/ref=pd_ka_b_2_1/002-9198391-3703263 This info may be too late to include in your course, but perhaps may be of help in the future.
Have you read “Losing Faith in Faith” by Dan Barker? I haven’t got my hands on a copy myself, but I know it’s available from amazon.com. It’s about a priest who converted to being faithless, I believe written by the priest in question.
[quote author=“ggabriel”]Have you read “Losing Faith in Faith” by Dan Barker? I haven’t got my hands on a copy myself, but I know it’s available from amazon.com. It’s about a priest who converted to being faithless, I believe written by the priest in question.
Technically he was a fundamentalist evangelist—a cleric/member of the clergy, which is the protestant equivalent of a priest (so, close enough).
[quote author=“SkepticX”][quote author=“ggabriel”]Have you read “Losing Faith in Faith” by Dan Barker? I haven’t got my hands on a copy myself, but I know it’s available from amazon.com. It’s about a priest who converted to being faithless, I believe written by the priest in question.
Technically he was a fundamentalist evangelist—a cleric/member of the clergy, which is the protestant equivalent of a priest (so, close enough).
Tell me more, tell me more,
Did he get very far?
Here are some books that might be useful:
Fire in the Mind: Science, Faith, and the Search for Order, by George Johnson
Invention of Telepathy, by Roger Luckhurst—a readable yet extremely scholarly study of the effects of the struggle between religion and science. It’s also full of delicious facts like the seance at Darwin’s home.
Fits, Trances and Visions: Experiencing Religion and Explaining Experience from Wesley to James, by Ann Taves
God’s Funeral, by A. N. Wilson
A lot of the really good recent research in this area has been historical research.